Today Israel remembers the Holocaust. I thought I would share my short descriptive essay of a visit I made several years ago to the children’s memorial at Yad Vashem.
It is the small details that make the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel, memorable. The fine prints, shimmering glass and flickering dim lights are a fitting contrast to the arid sun struck land outside its walls. It honors those it remembers through its simple and yet intricate design.
It stands in quiet tribute, situated away from the main hustle and bustle of the museum, and overlooking one of the five valleys of Jerusalem.. Small trees are posted at irregular intervals around the hilltop and they stand as silent sentinels. They are regal by appearance, and by their very presence. There is one tree for each of the individuals that secretly fought for, and protected the Jewish victims throughout the Nazi regime. Engraved with the name of each protector, a small stone sign graces the slender roots at the base of each stump. The name of Schindler can be viewed upon the most poignant of the plaques.
The building first appears as the walk from the outside court winds inward. It is immaculate and pristine from a distance. The trimmed, tall and vibrant greens of the plants offset the white washed stones of the walls, and the curving pathway leads to the center piece of the memorial. A small sculpture that is simple in style tells a profound story: The Nazis arrive to haul a group of children to the concentration camps, and yet their rabbi insists on going with. The Rabbi knows he is taken to his death, and yet recognizes his duty to the children.
Upon reaching the center a statement engraved in marble whispers the powerful words: “…over a million and a half children who perished in the holocaust.” Within the unassuming building that stands next in line for the solemn visitor, the Jews remember each of the young that had their lives stolen away. There is a deep and steadying breath before entering. The talking ceases. The first step across the threshold echoes with a light thud as feet fall nervously and softly upon the smooth surface of the interior.
The body and the mind pause as eyes adjust to the dimly lit room. The walls seem paper thin. They shimmer and appear glass like in the ethereal glow of a myriad of sparks that wave like candles. The lights move, flittering as if hesitant to remain in one place. A hand fails as it tries to grasp and touch the flames. Fleeting and yet remaining they are a haunting symphony of elegance; a silent paradox.
One candle and the placement of many unseen mirrors has taken the light of this single flame, this single race, and cast it in a flurry of directions. It is now uncountable and infinite, a light that refuses to die and be snuffed out by the cold hand of history. The reality of the holocaust is retold by a genius and complex design that does not understate the tragedy.
It is the next step. The ear distinguishes a single word in Hebrew; the inflections of the Jewish national tongue are noticeable. Again the word is spoken in English; the language that is universal and understood by billions. The death toll sounds a third time, in German or Polish. It is the repeated name of a lost child. Again and again and again it is heard, with different names and different voices. Sometimes the third repeat is Greek or Ukrainian, and sometimes French or Russian. The Hebrew is always first, the English is always second. The quiet and deathly melody of their home tongue is final.
The walk way leads in a circular path as the reflecting candles are refracted and mirrored on all sides. The names of those lost continue to be uttered. They will not stop for the recording is an infinite loop of sorrow. The heart stills in remorse and respect, as the moment sears into the conscience. The stillness is interrupted only by the shuffling of feet, faint and hesitant. None wish the sound of their movement to break the somber recollection of others that are within the hall.
There is a choice to continue along the circuitous route, and hear more names softly spoken within the hallowed monument. Few choose to do so. The affect is complete. The lights and voices linger in memory, repetitive and yet succinct. A solemn testament of those left behind.